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Turkey seeks to boost East-West role in captives crisis: analysts 31 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Agence France Presse — English, March 30, 2007 Friday

Sibel Utku Bila, Ankara

Turkey’s bid to mediate in the escalating crisis between its eastern neighbour Iran and NATO ally Britain reflects Ankara’s ambitions to act as a bridge between East and West, analysts said Friday.

The Turkish government moved quickly to try and defuse the tense stand-off between Tehran and London that followed Iran’s seizure of 15 British sailors and marines a week ago, but observers here said its role would be limited.

« As a country that has the confidence of both (Britain and Iran), Turkey is trying to ease the crisis, but it can only get limited results as both sides harden their positions, » said Arzu Celalifer, a researcher at the Ankara-based think-tank USAK.

Huseyin Bagci, an international relations expert, agreed: « Turkey is playing only a minor role. Even if it achieves some success, it will be equally minor. »

Bagci suggested that Iran was pursuing a policy of « deliberately humiliating » Britain.

« Iran is unlikely to respond to any intervention that aims to defuse the crisis because it is actually trying to boost its standing in the Muslim world as a country capable of defying the West, » he said.

Leading Turkey’s effort is Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has spoken to the Iranian president and foreign minister to secure the release of the sole woman among the detained British personnel and to obtain access for Turkish diplomats to the captives.

Erdogan’s initiative followed talks between Turkish leaders and British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in Ankara on Tuesday.

Although Tehran initially announced Wednesday that it would release servicewoman Faye Turney, it backed off Thursday after London decided to suspend all official bilateral business and took the crisis to the United Nations.

Ahmadinejad promised Erdogan in a telephone conversation late Thursday that Iran would reconsider Turney’s release, a Turkish official said.

After years of animosity over accusations that the Islamic regime in Iran is seeking to undermine Turkey’s secular system, Ankara and Tehran have markedly mended fences in recent years — brought closer notably by the turmoil in their common neighbour Iraq.

Wary of fresh military conflict at its doorstep, Ankara has also lobbied Tehran for a peaceful resolution of the international row over its nuclear programme.

In recent years, Turkey has shown a marked increase in interest in the Middle East, where its secular system, traditionally pro-Western orientation and close ties with Israel long made it the black sheep of the Islamic fold.

With its bid for European Union membership shrouded in uncertainty, Turkey intensified its efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians closer, improved ties with former foe Syria and boosted economic ties with Arab countries.

« Turkey’s attitudes have changed. It has adopted a position that looks both East and West, » said Beril Dedeoglu, a professor of international relations at Istanbul’s Galatasaray University.

The turning point, Celalifer said, was a stunning rejection by the parliament in Ankara of a US request to use Turkish territory to open a northen front in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Greater interest in the fate of fellow Muslim nations in the ranks of Erdogan’s Islamist rooted, conservative Justice and Development Party and its electorate has also been a factor in defining Ankara’s new stance, the analysts said.

They agreed that Erdogan also has in mind the general elections scheduled for November, and that success in persuading Iran to soften its stance would score points at home.

« A leader who has won the trust of the Muslim world will certainly win the trust of Turkish voters, » Dedeoglu said.


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